Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel

Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel

by Eric H. Cline

"Jerusalem Besieged offers a history across the millennia, yet focuses on a single location - a view of centuries of often violent battles for one city." "Author Eric Cline tells the story of four thousand years of struggles for control of Jerusalem, a city central to three major religions and held sacred by millions of people throughout the world. No other city has…  See more details below


"Jerusalem Besieged offers a history across the millennia, yet focuses on a single location - a view of centuries of often violent battles for one city." "Author Eric Cline tells the story of four thousand years of struggles for control of Jerusalem, a city central to three major religions and held sacred by millions of people throughout the world. No other city has been more bitterly fought over throughout its history. Jerusalem, whose name to some means "City of Peace," has seen at least 118 separate conflicts during the past four millennia - conflicts that ranged from local religious uprisings to strategic military campaigns." Jerusalem Besieged chronicles the struggles of four millennia, sets their contexts, and demonstrates their continuing relevance to the social and political problems of the Middle East today.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A beautifully lucid presentation of four thousand years of history in a single volume. Cline writes primarily as an archaeologist-avoiding polemic and offering evidence for any religious claims-yet he has also incorporated much journalistic material into this study. Jerusalem Besieged will enlighten anyone interested in the history of military conflict in and around Jerusalem."
-Col. Rose Mary Sheldon, Virginia Military Institute

"This groundbreaking study offers a fascinating synthesis of Jerusalem's military history from its first occupation into the modern era. Cline amply deploys primary source material to investigate assaults on Jerusalem of every sort, starting at the dawn of recorded history. Jerusalem Besieged is invaluable for framing the contemporary situation in the Middle East in the context of a very long and pertinent history."
-Baruch Halpern, Pennsylvania State University

Publishers Weekly
Cline, an associate professor of ancient history and archeology at George Washington University, begins his history of Jerusalem with mythical, biblical and archeological clues to its past, and the Roman histories of Josephus. Cline's narrative thread is the battles over control of a dusty village that took on increasing emotional content as it became a contested religious site. Cline claims "assimilation, annihilation and acculturation" through 10 empires and occupancies have left no one in the area today with "a legitimate pedigree definitively extending back to any of the original inhabitants." Of the alleged 118 conflicts over Jerusalem, few lacked a religious basis. Until 1917, Cline shows, Westerners controlled Jerusalem for less than a century. Beyond the Solomonic years, Jews have controlled the old city only since 1967. Perhaps no fragment of global real estate has been so volatile over so long a history. Despite sanguinary, even horrific detail from past memoirs and narratives, Cline's retelling is flat and repetitious, and the numerous references to Saddam Hussein, physically absent from this history, overreach in attempting immediate relevance. While a useful, well-annotated, textbookish guide to Jerusalem's violent past and present, it will not replace Karen Armstrong's stylish Jerusalem. One City, Three Faiths (1996). 10 color photos not seen by PW, 24 maps. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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University of Michigan Press
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6.32(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.03(d)

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By Eric H. Cline


Copyright © 2004 University of Michigan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-03120-7

Chapter One


The taut rope stretched upward into the darkness, twisting and creaking softly, as Joab began the long climb to the opening at the top of the narrow water shaft. The climb was difficult and dangerous, but if Joab succeeded, the way into the heart of Jerusalem would be open before him. But that would be only half the journey. He would still have to evade the guards lining the high walls and open the gates to the army waiting silently outside-an army ready to strike and take the citadel for David, their King. If Joab succeeded, the army of the Hebrews would surprise the Jebusite garrison and conquer Jerusalem. Joab would become the General of David's armies.

IS THIS ACTUALLY what took place when David launched his attack against Jerusalem and the Jebusites one dark night about the year 1000 BCE? The tale of Joab's upward climb into the heart of Jerusalem, as described in the Bible, is the subject of scholarly debate, but it is clear that one day or night some three thousand years ago, one of the pivotal battles of history began. The biblical account of David's battle against the Jebusites and his capture of their city is a dramatic tale of skill and courage. The victory described set the stage for the predominance of the Israelites in the region for the next four hundred years, until they in turn were conquered by the Neo-Babylonians. It is a tale that still reverberates today in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.


"Our forefathers, the Canaanites and Jebusites," declared Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and president of the Palestinian Authority, "built the cities and planted the land; they built the monumental city of Bir Salim [Jerusalem] ..." His trusted confidant and advisor, Faisal Husseini, agreed. "First of all," he said, "I am a Palestinian. I am a descendant of the Jebusites, the ones who came before King David. This [Jerusalem] was one of the most important Jebusite cities in the area.... Yes, it's true. We are the descendants of the Jebusites." Husseini, well-known in the Arab world as the son of a war hero, a member of a respected Jerusalem family, and a distant cousin of Yasser Arafat, was the Palestinian Authority minister for Jerusalem affairs before he suffered a fatal heart attack while visiting Kuwait in May 2001. He was especially fond of referring to himself as a descendant of the ancient Jebusites, the "original landlords of Jerusalem."

Arafat and Husseini were using a new tactic in the attempt, begun by the Palestinian Authority a decade or more earlier, to gain control of modern Jerusalem. Their initial targets were the notepads and tape recorders of news reporters. Their ultimate targets were especially Americans and also the peoples of Europe and the Middle East. By claiming descent from the ancient Jebusites, they were effectively avowing that the Palestinian people can trace their lineage to a people that held an already ancient Jerusalem when the Israelites conquered the city and made it the capital of their fledgling kingdom. They were implying that King David's capture of the city from the Jebusites about 1000 BCE was simply the first time that the Jews took Jerusalem from its rightful Palestinian owners.

Not to be outdone in the propaganda campaign, Israeli politicians opened fire with a media onslaught of their own. They gave top billing to King David in the "Jerusalem 3000" advertising campaign for celebrations that began in 1995, and they identified David's conquest of the city in about 1000 BCE as marking the foundation of Jerusalem. To their Palestinian opponents, this was political propaganda that conveniently ignored the earlier Canaanite and Jebusite occupations of Jerusalem that extend the history of the city back an additional two thousand years.

David's capture of Jerusalem three thousand years ago is thus relevant- or claimed to be relevant-to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Israel today. The modern contestants are stretching and embroidering the faded cloth of history. The ancient conflict between the Israelites and Jebusites is being recast as the original battle between Israelis and Palestinians for control of Jerusalem. Just what was this battle? Who were the Jebusites? And why were King David and the Israelites so determined to capture the city? Let us begin with a description of the land of Canaan three thousand years ago.


During the transition between the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages, Canaanites, Jebusites, Israelites, and other Semitic and non-Semitic groups inhabited the ancient Levant, in the region that encompasses modern Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. This was the land of Canaan (Ka-na-na, Ki-na-a), according to ancient documents found in Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia (located in what is now modern Iraq and northern Syria). Canaan is also the name used in the Hebrew Bible.

Among the peoples living in the land of Canaan at this time were the Philistines. They were descendants of the Peleset-members of an elusive group of marauding brigands known to archaeologists as the Sea Peoples. It is from the Peleset and the Philistines that our word Palestine comes-Philistia became Neo-Assyrian Palashtu, Roman Syria Palastina, Arabic/Moslem Filastin, and, eventually, British Palestine.

Little is known about the origins of the Sea Peoples, but Egyptian inscriptions record that they ravaged the lands bordering the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean seas, laying waste to cities great and small. Many archaeologists believe that the Sea Peoples were instrumental in bringing to an end the Late Bronze Age and civilized life in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean in about 1200 BCE. By their looting and pillaging, they ushered in the so-called Dark Ages in the Aegean world and parts of the Near East. Gone forever from those lands were the great powers of the second millennium BCE-the Mycenaeans and Minoans of the Aegean, the Hittites of Anatolia (modern Turkey), the original Babylonians and Assyrians of Mesopotamia, and the Egyptians of the Eighteenth Dynasty.

Mighty Egypt had been brought to its knees in trying to repel successive waves of Sea Peoples attacking by both land and sea. With the collapse of their civilization, the Egyptian overlords of Canaan fled, leaving behind smoking ruins of once-beautiful palaces and fortified cities. The Hittites of central Anatolia, whose sway had once extended as far south as Qadesh in Syria, had been defeated at home, and their capital city of Hattusas, near modern Ankara, lay in ruins. The once-proud Assyrians and Babylonians of Mesopotamia remained in their cities by the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and were beset by nomadic tribes that earlier would not have dared attack them. Pleas for help drafted by the king of Ugarit, the largest and most prosperous seaport in northern Syria, went unheard, as his clay tablet lay in the baking kiln, unfired and unsent, when Ugarit was violently destroyed about the year 1186 BCE. "My father, the enemy ships are already here," he had written to the king of Cyprus on the unsent tablet. He continued: "they have set fire to my towns and have done very great damage in the country.... Consider this, my father, there are seven enemy ships that have come and done very great damage. Now if there are more enemy ships let me know about them so that I can decide what to do."


After the withdrawal of the Egyptians and the other great empires, the land of Canaan-now inhabited only by small city-states and petty kingdoms busy fighting among themselves-was a plum ripe for the picking. The Sea Peoples had created a power vacuum in which small tribes and ethnic groups were free to flourish without fear of suppression by larger states and kingdoms.

The principal ethnic groups left in the land of Canaan were the Canaanites and their assorted cousins, including Jebusites and Amorites, together with the unrelated Philistines. The Canaanites may have been one of the "indigenous" peoples of this land. It is not known when exactly they arrived, although they may have already been in place five thousand years ago, by about 3000 BCE. Like the later Phoenicians, the Canaanites were known for the purple dye they manufactured from murex shells, particularly in the coastal regions around the area that is now Sidon and Tyre in modern Lebanon. Indeed, the very name Canaanite, like the name Phoenician, may have meant "purple" in the original languages of the area.

The origins of the Jebusite peoples are rather more obscure than are those of their Canaanite cousins and are even more hotly debated by scholars. So far, only one intriguing suggestion has merited more than a brief discussion. That is the possibility that the Jebusites were distantly related to the Hittites, who ruled ancient Anatolia (modern Turkey) from 1700 BCE to 1200 BCE and whom the Bible surprisingly-and erroneously-places in the land of Canaan itself. The evidence for this relationship is largely circumstantial but is appealing.

An appointment calendar distributed by Faisal Husseini's Palestine Association for Studies of International Affairs in Jerusalem declares, "About the year 4000 BC, the Jebusites, a Canaanite subgroup, founded Jebus-Jerusalem-in the place where it is located today." However, archaeological evidence suggests that Jerusalem was not founded until about 3000 BCE, thus contradicting Husseini's calendar. Moreover, most scholars agree that Jerusalem was under Canaanite-perhaps specifically Amorite-control at the time of the so-called Egyptian Execration Texts from the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries BCE. That conclusion is drawn from the names for the rulers of Jerusalem in the lists of those cursed.

The two sets of so-called Execration Texts list the Syria-Palestinian towns, regions, and rulers that the Egyptians regarded as enemies and upon which they hoped to cast ritual spells and curses. The first, earlier, set of names was written on terra-cotta bowls, while the second set of names was inscribed on terra-cotta figurines in the shape of prisoners. In both instances, the objects were ritually smashed and buried. Only when archeologists reassembled those ceramic jigsaw puzzles could they read the hieroglyphic texts painted or inscribed on the original objects.

Within the earlier set of Execration Texts-those on the bowls-was written, "... the Ruler of Jerusalem, Yaqir-Ammu, and all the retainers who are with him; the Ruler of Jerusalem, Saz-Anu [Sas-Anu or Shaz-Anu], and all the retainers who are with him." The second set of texts-those on the figurines-also include the city of Jerusalem, but in this case only the first syllable of the ruler's name, "Ba ...," is still preserved. In both sets, the city's name is given in Egyptian hieroglyphs as rwsh3mm, which has been transliterated by various scholars as Rushalimum, Urushamem, or Urusalim. Virtually all scholars accept that this is to be translated into English as "Jerusalem." From these texts, moreover, the names of the early rulers of Jerusalem have been interpreted as being of West Semitic-even specifically Amorite-origin.

Although it is impossible to say exactly when the Jebusites took over Jerusalem from their Canaanite or Amorite cousins, scholarly suggestions have usually ranged from 2000 BCE to 1200 BCE. At the very least, if the biblical text is to be believed, they were in control of Jerusalem by the time of David, in the late eleventh century BCE.

The date of the first appearance of the Israelites in the land of Canaan is perhaps the most complex and controversial issue. Numerous scholars have weighed in on this particular topic, suggesting hypotheses that include an exodus and military conquest as described in the Hebrew Bible, a peaceful infiltration by seminomads, a peasant's revolt by villagers in the highlands against Canaanite overlords, a gradual development into "Israelites" from within the local Canaanite population, and so on. All we know for certain is that an inscription on a victory monument of Pharaoh Merneptah claims that the Egyptians defeated a people called "Israel" who were living in the land of Canaan by about the year 1207 BCE.

Regardless of the antecedent events and the means by which they entered the picture, by the twelfth and eleventh centuries BCE the Israelites were poised to take advantage of the political and military vacuum created by the marauding Sea Peoples.


Textual records show that battles for Jerusalem had already occurred hundreds of years before David captured the city. For example, among the (so-called) Amarna Letters sent to the Egyptian pharaoh by Abdi-Heba, the Canaanite ruler of Jerusalem about 1350 BCE, is one in which he writes "the war against me is severe and so I am not able to go in to the king, my lord" (Amarna Letter EA 286).

The Amarna Letters date to the reigns of the Egyptian pharaohs Amenhotep III and his son Akhenaten. They were found in Egypt in 1887 by a peasant woman digging in the fields at modern Tell el-Amarna (ancient Akhetaten) in Egypt, located halfway between the cities of Cairo and Luxor. Most of these ancient letters are copies of correspondence between the Egyptian pharaohs and the rulers of other kingdoms and empires-Babylonia, Assyria, the Hittites, and so on. Within the Amarna archive, there are also letters sent to the Egyptian pharaohs by petty rulers in Canaan who owed them allegiance. Among these was Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem, who was a "mayor" (hazannu) on paper but a minor king in actuality. From his extensive correspondence-he sent at least six letters to the Egyptian pharaoh and was mentioned in two others-it is clear that the name of his city was Urushalim (Jerusalem) and that he was its ruler at this time, ca. 1350 BCE.

Abdi-Heba, who says that he came to power by courtesy of "the strong arm" of the pharaoh (Amarna Letters EA 286, 288), was frequently at odds with his neighbors, and the conflicts he wrote of almost certainly would have involved attacks on Jerusalem itself. In another letter to the Egyptian pharaoh, he sent a similar message.

... message of Abdi-Heba, your servant ... May the king give thought to his land; the land of the king is lost. All of it has attacked me.... I am situated like a ship in the midst of the sea. (Amarna Letter EA 288)

We know that Abdi-Heba's cry for help was not in vain. He received assistance from the pharaoh in the form of a company of fifty archers who were apparently stationed in Jerusalem for some time. The Amarna letters are thus the earliest written records that we possess of conflicts for Jerusalem.

Details of other conflicts that involved Jerusalem before the time of David may be gleaned from the biblical accounts, if they can be trusted. For instance, the Book of Joshua says that Joshua defeated the king of Jerusalem, a man named Adonizedek, at a battle fought at Gibeon, a site located some distance north of Jerusalem. This was the famous twelfth-century BCE battle in which Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, in order to allow the Israelites more time to kill the enemy soldiers and the five Amorite kings who led them. We are told that Adonizedek was the head of this coalition and that he and the other kings were executed after the battle.

Although the Bible says that Joshua killed the king of Jerusalem, the text is silent on the question of whether or not Joshua captured the city. Modern authorities are divided on this issue, particularly since many of the events portrayed in the Books of Joshua and Judges are problematic in terms of historical accuracy. Many scholars suggest that while Joshua may have captured the surrounding area, Jerusalem itself successfully resisted and Joshua did not take the city. This would mirror situations found elsewhere in Canaan at this time-for instance, Joshua is said to have killed the kings of Megiddo, Taanach, Shimron, Yoqneam, and other cities in the Jezreel Valley without being able to drive out the Canaanites.


After Joshua's success, the stage was set for David's entrance into both the city and the history of Jerusalem: "And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, that is Jebus, where the Jebusites were the inhabitants of the land" (1 Chronicles 11:4).


Excerpted from JERUSALEM BESIEGED by Eric H. Cline Copyright © 2004 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Eric H. Cline is a former Fulbright scholar and Associate Professor of Classics and Anthropology and is Chair of the Department of Classical and Semitic Languages and Literatures at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books and numerous articles on the ancient world, including The Battles of Armageddon (University of Michigan Press, 2000).

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